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defence should not be considered as offensive to the king, nor prove dangerous to himself. The commis sioners answered that such assurances would be no defence against a legal charge. He offered, however, to trust himself to the king's honour. Cranmer took some advantage of More's candour, urging that as he had disclaimed all blame of those who had sworn, it was evident that he thought it only doubtful whe ther the oath was unlawful; and desired him to con. sider whether the obligation to obey the king was not absolutely certain. He was struck with the subtility of this reasoning, which took him by surprise, but not convinced of its solidity. Notwithstanding his surprise, he seems to have almost touched the true answer, that, as the oath contained a profession of opinion, such, for example, as the lawfulness of the king's marriage, on which men might differ, it might be declined by some and taken by others with equal honesty. Crumwell, whom More believed to favour him, loudly swore that he would rather see his only son had lost his head than that More had thus refused the oath. Crumwell bore the answer to the king, and chancellor Audley distinctly enjoined him to state very clearly More's willingness to swear to the succession. "Surely," said More, "as to swearing to the succession, I see no peril." Crumwell was not a good man, but the gentle virtue of More subdued even the bad. He never more returned to his house, being committed to the custody of the abbot of Westminster,* in which he continued four days: and at the end of that time he was conveyed to the Tower, on Friday the 17th of April, 1534.
It was very shortly after his commitment to the Tower, that he wrote the following letter to his darling daughter, Margaret, which contains a faithful and animated sketch of what passed before the
William Benson was appointed abbot in 1510. He surrendered his abbey to Henry, by whom he was made Dean, and died in 1549.
council. It has no superscription, and is unsigned, a matter of prudent precaution, no doubt, in the situation in which he was placed.
"When I was before the Lords at Lambeth, I was the first that was called in, albeit that master Doctor, the vicar of Croydon [Hugh Latymer], was come before me and divers others. After the cause of my sending for declared unto me, (whereof I somewhat marvelled in my mind, considering that they sent for no more temporal men but me,) I desired the sight of the oath, which they showed me under the great seal. Then desired I the sight of the act of the succession, which was delivered me in a printed roll. After which read secretly by myself, and the other considered with the act, I showed unto them, that my purpose was not to put any fault either in the act or any man that made it, or in the oath of any man that sware it, nor to condemn the conscience of any other man. But as for myself, in good faith, my conscience so moved me in the matter, that though I would not deny to swear to the succession, yet unto that oath that there was offered me, I could not swear without the jeoparding of my soul to perpetual damnation. And if they doubted whether I did refuse the oath only for the grudge of my conscience, or for any other fantasy, I was ready therein to satisfy them by my oath which if they trusted not, what should they be better to give me any oath. And if I trusted that I would therein swear true, then trusted I that, of their goodness, they would not move me to swear the oath that they offered me, perceiving that to swear it was against my own conscience. Unto this my lord chancellor said, that they were all very sorry to hear me say thus, and see me thus refuse the oath. And they all said, that on their faith, I was the very first that ever refused it, which would cause the king's highness to conceive great suspicion of me, and great indignation toward me. And therewith they showed me the
roll, and let me see the names of the lords and commoners who had sworn and subscribed their names already. Which notwithstanding when they saw that I refused to swear the same myself, not blaming any other man that had sworn, I was in conclusion commanded to go down into the garden. And thereupon I tarried in the old burned chamber that looketh into the garden, and would not go down because of the heat.
In that time saw I master Doctor Latymer come into the garden, and there walked he with diverse other doctors and chaplains of my lord of Canterbury. And very merry I saw him, for he laughed, and took one or two about the neck so handsomely, that if they had been women, I would have weened he had been waxed wanton. After that came master Doctor Wilson forth from the lords, and was with two gentlemen brought by me, and gentlemanly sent straight into the Tower. What time my lord of Rochester was called in before them, that I cannot tell; but at night I heard he had been before them, but where he had remained that night, and so forth, till he was sent hither, I never heard. I heard also that Master Vicar of Croydon, and all the remnant of the priests of London that were sent for, were sworn: and that they had such favour at the council's hand, that they were not lingered nor made to dance any long attendance to their trouble and cost, as suitors were sometimes wont to be, but were sped apace to their great comfort; so far forth, that master Vicar of Croydon, either for gladness or for dryness, or else that it might be seen, Quod ille notus erat pontifici [that he was known to the prelate,] went to my lord's buttery-bar, and called for drink, and drank valde familiariter.
When they had played their pageant, and were gone out of the place, then was I called in again. And then was it declared unto me, that a number had sworn (even since I went aside) gladly without any sticking. Wherein I laid no blame to any man,
but for my own self answered as before. Now as well before as then, they somewhat laid unto me for obstinacy, that, whereas before and since I refused to swear, I would not declare any special part of that oath that grudged my conscience, and open the cause wherefore. For thereunto I had said unto them, that I feared lest the king's highness would, as they said, take displeasure enough towards me, for the only refusal of the oath. And that if I should open and disclose the causes why, I should therewith but further exasperate his highness, which I would in no wise do, but rather would I abide all the danger and harm that might come towards me, than give his highness any occasion of further displeasure, than the offering of the oath unto me of pure necessity constrained me. Howbeit when they diverse times imputed this unto me for stubbornness and obstinacy, that I would neither swear the oath, nor yet declare the causes why, I declared thus far to them, that rather than I would be accounted for obstinate, I would upon the king's gracious license, or rather his such commandment had as might be my sufficient warrant that my declaration should not offend his highness, nor put me in the danger of any of his statutes, I would be content to declare the causes in writing, and over that to give an oath in the beginning, that if I might find those causes by any man in such wise answered, as I might think mine own conscience satisfied, I would, after that, with all mine heart, swear the principal oath too. To this I was answered, that, though the king should give me license under his letters patent, yet would it not serve against the statute. Whereto I said, that yet if I had them, I would stand unto the trust of his honour at my peril for the remnant. But thinketh me now, that if I may not declare the cause without peril, then to leave them undeclared is no obstinancy. My lord of Canterbury taking hold upon what I said, that I condemned not the consciences
of them that swore, said unto me: That it appeared well, that I did not take it for a very sure thing and a certain that I might not lawfully swear it, but rather as a thing uncertain and doubtful. But then (said my lord) you know for a certainty and a thing without doubt, that you be bounden to obey your sovereign lord the king. And therefore are ye bounden to leave off the doubt of your unsure conscience in refusing the oath, and take the sure way in obeying your prince and swear it.
Now albeit, that in mine own mind I thought myself not concluded, yet this argument seemed to me suddenly so subtle, and namely with such authority coming out of so noble a prelate's mouth, that I could again answer nothing thereto, but only that I thought myself I might not well do so, because that in my conscience this was one of the cases, in which I was bounden that I should not obey my prince, since, whatsoever other folks thought in the matter (whose conscience or learning I would not condemn nor take upon me to judge), yet in my conscience, the truth seemed on the other side; wherein I had informed my conscience neither suddenly nor slightly, but by long leisure and diligent search for the matter. And of truth, if that reason may conclude, then have we a ready way to avoid all perplexities. For in whatsoever matter the doctors stand in great doubt, the king's commandment given upon whither side he list, solveth all the doubts. Then said my lord of Westminster to me, that howsoever the matter seemed unto mine own mind, I had cause to fear that mine own mind was erroneous, when I see the great council of the realm determine of my mind the contrary, and that therefore I ought to change my conscience.* To that I answered, that if there were no more but myself upon my side, and the whole parliament upon
Burnet's reflections upon the abbot's reasoning is just and acute: "It was very fit for so rich an abbot, and discovered the temper of his conscience."